Chores: Getting your kids to help

Every member of the family needs to contribute to make the family work. If one person is doing most or all of the housework, it won't take long to burn out. Try these tips for getting the help you need:

  1. Try to make pickup time as fun as possible. Preschool age children seem to respond well to clean up songs. It helps to start young, when children see cleaning as a game. There are several "clean up" and "tidy up" songs on children's tapes and videos. Find one that isn't too annoying and use it! Sing along with the children. Older children -- I hate to say this, but it's true -- may work better with their own favorite music playing. I know that adults in the clutter club have mentioned that music helps. Close the door or move outside while they work to the beat if you don't appreciate their music. But don't insist on silence for housework. Don't teach your children that housework is boring. They may just find that some housework is interesting and even fun. Don't spoil it for them!
  2. Label shelves or boxes with words or pictures. Why buy toys that involve putting small blocks or balls into a container when you can practice the same skill on something more useful-like toys and their shelves or boxes. It's a matching game! Young school-aged children are great at matching socks-and sorting laundry once you teach them the rules.
  3. Work together, side-by-side. Not only is it good for the children to see you helping (not the mean ogre that makes them do all the work) but you might also get some insight into how your child does things. It is not always necessary for a child to do everything the way you do. Sometimes good enough really is enough. Sometimes the child may come up with a better way. (This is especially true of tasks we were taught to do but hated doing-rather than try to think of a better way to do it, we often try not to think about it.)After children have a chance to put their belongings away, and haven't, place the items in a box. Your kids can redeem them by doing extra chores around the house. This is not a punishment, this is an exchange of labor -- you had to pick up their stuff, now they have to do something for you. Don't make chores a punishment. If you think of housework as a punishment yourself, you need to get things straight in your own mind. Certain tasks simply must be done to keep a household running. Doing them doesn't make you a servant. You do it for the good of the family --including yourself.
  4. Make sure your child is able to do what you ask. A toybox lid that is too heavy, shelves that are too deep, clothes poles that are over a child's reach, all make it hard, if not impossible for the child to help. Look for child-size brooms and lightweight vacuum cleaners if you plan on having a young child use them. Low shallow shelving units are found in many day care centers for a reason. It's one of the best ways to encourage children to put things away for themselves. If you had 15 children you'd give up on the concept that it's easier to do it yourself a whole lot sooner. By the way, it may be easier to do it yourself this time, but multiply that by forever and compare that to the trouble of teaching the child to do it. That's a more reasonable comparison.
  5. Be very specific about what you want your child to do. "Clean your room" is vague to most children as well as overwhelming. Does it mean to get everything off the floor -- so it's all right to cram it all into the closet or under the bed? Does it mean I have to put away the puzzle I've been working on and dust and vacuum and wash down the walls? What's the least I can do and still pass inspection? "Pick up all the blocks and put them in the block box" is more useful. Keep giving instructions until the task is completed to your standards.
  6. Use pictures or words to list the steps you expect your child to take in completing a task. Let your child follow your "written" instructions. This frees you from having to repeat the steps every time and makes it more of a game. For older children this makes your instructions more specific and you are less likely to have to make repeated inspections only to find that they had skipped some important step.
  7. Make sure there is enough storage space for everything in your child's room. If you are helping a child clean his room and you get stuck trying to find a place for everything -- you need to get less "stuff," more storage, or both. Look for storage items that are easy to use and that will hold whatever it is that needs to be held.
  8. Make it a regular event. Go through your child's clothes, toys, and papers along with your child and discuss what they really want to keep.
  9. If you use a chore chart, keep it where YOU will see it every day, and keep it current. Nothing like a little inconsistency to throw the whole plan off. Make sure someone marks the chart every day and that rewards are given in a timely manner. It takes discipline to make a chore chart work, but if you want to teach a child discipline, the chore chart is one tool. You might also consider using file cards with your children's chores-list one on each and let them move them from one envelope to another as they complete the chores. You might also teach older children to make their own day plan --schedule their activities on a calendar or day-planner and include their chores and homework.
  10. When asking for help remember to ask politely. Explain that you are willing to do your share of the housework, but that everyone in the family needs to help. Explain that you would be a more relaxed person and easier to live with if everyone would simply select a few chores and do their share. Have a list of the chores that you'd be interested in sharing so they can choose some chores right away. Post a schedule of chores for everyone -- including your own -- as a reminder. Try not to nag. Please!
  11. Believe it when you tell your child that this is a skill that will be needed later in life. Whether it's organizing a desk, dusting a shelf, or sorting laundry -- if they don't learn it from you they will have to learn it the hard way. (My roommate in college learned about sorting clothes after all of our whites turned pink in the wash with her brand new towels -- we wished her mother had taken the time to teach her earlier.) When you say "you'll thank me for this later," believe it! Attitude counts. Keep yours as positive as possible.
  12. Offer rewards for completing chores. Don't forget to reward yourself when you've done a good job. A small snack, a warm hug, a sincere "thanks" or some time alone (or alone with someone special) are all good rewards for small things. A new "toy," a trip to someplace fun (like the park or the zoo for the kiddies or a nice restaurant for older kids), or some time off are good rewards for bigger accomplishments.
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